Rethinking Teaching in the Sciences: April 7-27, 2008

Week three: moving it forward

Week three: moving it forward

by Gina Bennett -
Number of replies: 13
Sooo... what's your opinion? Have we re-thought teaching in the sciences?

In the BC public postsecondary system, we are "putting our money where our mouth is" & attempting to offer a high-quality, scientifically-rigorous Associate of Science program online. The first 2 courses (Physics & Geology) for this program will be available online in the coming academic year. This project has received funding from both BCcampus's Online Program Development Fund & the Inukshuk Wireless Fund.

The project is led by Ron Evans of North Island College. Ron has been offering a first-year Astronomy course online for several years. College of the Rockies (surprise, surprise - MY institution!!!) is a partner in the project.

I've learned a lot from my involvement in this project. It's been most interesting to explore the topic of learning science at a distance with my colleagues. We all agree that education needs to be more accessible but we also agree that the quality of that education should not be compromised. Science learning includes both theoretical & practical/technical aspects; & the exercise & practice of the scientific method has traditionally been done face-to-face, supervised in a lab.

But what else is possible? How far can we go with the concept of an Associate of Science (or a B.Sc.?) online?
In reply to Gina Bennett

Science Without Borders

by Sylvia Currie -
I've been following along this discussion with HUGE interest but not enough time. How many times have I heard that from other SCoPE members? big grin

Anyway, I was just catching up on what SCoPE bloggers are talking about and came across this post from Ignatia: Check out the Science Without Borders project. It strikes me that a step toward rethinking teaching in the sciences is to integrate learning and research opportunities that address real world problems.

Does anyone have examples that truly connect the learner to authentic projects like this one?
In reply to Sylvia Currie

Re: Science Without Borders

by Gina Bennett -
This is an awesome site, Sylvia! The idea of sharing not only scientific research, but also collaboration & mentoring between Europe & Africa, at a very grassroots level, is such a great concept. I love the 'without borders' movement & I like even better the way the French have turned it into a noun: sansfrontierisme.

Scientific research does (or can) benefit us all. Scientists have known this for a long time & it's certainly the main reason that the results of scientific research, while usually funded nationally, are shared internationally. David Reinking is a professor at the University of Georgia & he writes extensively about how 'digital literacies' are changing the way we do things. He was writing about access to information in general when he wrote about the importance of filtering and selecting information...

more for the sake of finding the most relevant, useful, and convincing information from diverse, readily available sources, not, I hope, from the standpoint of deciding what information might be used ethically in a legal sense. In fact, I'd rather turn the question around 180 degrees: When is it ethically justifiable to deny people access to and dissemination of potentially useful information? There are a lot of unexamined assumptions related to these issues.

... but I think his advice & query is even more pertinent to the use of information in the sciences.

A bit off-topic, I suppose; but what the heck? It's week three! We can afford to dabble.
In reply to Gina Bennett

Re: Science Without Borders

by Inge Ignatia de Waard -
hi Gina, I completely agree with you on your remark concerning the ethically justifiableness of denying people access to and dissemination of potentially useful information.
In reply to Sylvia Currie

Re: Science Without Borders

by Inge Ignatia de Waard -
hi Sylvia
Thanks for mentioning the post, I am excited about this initiative as well. Looking forward to read the remarks and comments.
In reply to Gina Bennett

Rethinking teaching science online -

by Marsha West -
OK, so I am going to retreat from academia and ask a very much "real world" question on teaching science online.

When I taught for Virtual High School some 10 or 12 years ago, I was also site coordinator for my home school. And that meant I was supervising our students who were taking science courses from distant instructors.

There were many problems with how to teach science to students who weren't f2f with you. How to do a broad spectrum of traditional laboratory experiments when you didn't have a laboratory, for instance.

Some VHS teachers asked students to ask their local science teachers to allow them to do the experiments in the local science lab under the supervision of a local teacher (for safety's sake). That was a BAD idea.

There were others who proposed theoretically "safe" experiments that could be done in students' kitchens at home. Not a bad idea - but the breadth of experiments that could be conducted was very limited.

There were some who proposed that students do some not-so-safe experiments in their own kitchens. BAD, BAD idea.

There were some who supplied virtual interactives online -- GOOD idea, but again, what is lost without real beakers and Bunsen burners??

In the past 10-12 years, I'm sure many solutions have been found for these problems. For instance, we now have "virtual dissections" of frogs, etc. And we now see many hybrid courses. But I'm curious about an *entirely online* associate degree - how are these problems addressed???

~~marsha
In reply to Marsha West

Re: Rethinking teaching science online -

by Inge Ignatia de Waard -
hello Marsha

There are indeed a couple of lab necessities that are difficult to reach. At our institute (educational and research institute for tropical medicine) we try to use simulations to help students get the necessary training. One of our most successful one's is a simulation of a microscope, just got it out into the world in through a post.

But true lab experience, that is still difficult simulate.
In reply to Inge Ignatia de Waard

Re: Rethinking teaching science online -

by Gina Bennett -
Hi Ignatia, it seems that NASA agrees with you about the value of simulations for learning science concepts. I just saw this article today in the latest issue of Campus Technology. Here's a snippet:

NASA this week moved a step closer to branching into educational gaming. The agency presented its vision of a science education-focused massively multiplayer online game to more than 200 potential software development partners in a workshop Monday sponsored by NASA Learning Technologies, an educational technology incubator project.

The idea of the MMO educational game is to present NASA content in such a way as to draw students into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics learning and to spark interest in STEM-oriented careers. It will be aimed primarily at teenagers, according to NASA, focusing on middle schoolers, high schoolers, and college students...

The power of games as educational tools rapidly is gaining recognition. Virtual worlds with scientifically accurate simulations could permit learners to experiment with chemical reactions in living cells, practice operating and repairing expensive equipment, and experience microgravity," NASA explained in an announcement issued Monday. "The goal is to make it easier to grasp complex concepts and transfer this understanding quickly to practical problems."

Interesting!
Gina
In reply to Gina Bennett

Re: Rethinking teaching science online -

by Inge Ignatia de Waard -
hi Gina
Waw, a MMO from NASA that will be so interesting to try out or follow. Thank you for sharing!

In reply to Inge Ignatia de Waard

Re: Rethinking teaching science online -

by Judy Southwell -

Hi everyone,

I'm not qualified at all to participate in a discussion on Science, but I'm intrigued with technology and its uses in education.  A Google search led me to this New York Times Education article on "No Test Tubes? Debate on Virtual Space Science Classes" http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/20/education/20online.html?_r=1.  Embedded in the article is a link "Everything but the Formaldehyde" http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/20/education/20obox.html, which in turn has a link to a virtual lab that you can try out http://www.latenitelabs.com/

Cheers,

Judy

In reply to Judy Southwell

Re: Rethinking teaching science online -

by Gina Bennett -
Thanks Judy (another loyal ETUG participant!) The NY Times article is 'right on' with respect to this discussion. I found the comments of the College Board to be very interesting. I tried to figure out exactly WHAT they felt was deficient in the lab simulation activities. The only reason offered was the one presented by Dr. Fleck at the end of the article. His criticism was that “You don’t get the look and the feel and the smell”. I agree that you don't get the feel & the smell, & that the 'look' you get with a virtual lab is bound to be different (although maybe better). I just don't know that such a lack is sufficient to truly label the science educational experience gained from virtual labs as 'markedly inferior'.
In reply to Marsha West

Re: Rethinking teaching science online -

by Gina Bennett -
Hi Marsha, I am so glad you are posting your 'real world' observations here, because these are the very same questions & problems that we are going to get from our faculty as we attempt to offer a real science experience at a distance. There are 2 of your questions I especially want to re-visit:

1. How to do a broad spectrum of traditional laboratory experiments when you don't have a laboratory?
2. What is lost without real beakers and Bunsen burners?

IMO these questions are closely related. How can you do a broad spectrum of traditional lab experiments without a traditional lab? You can't. You can more-or-less replicate the easy labs, like adding vinegar to baking soda, but let's face it: most traditional experiments require traditional lab equipment (like beakers & bunsen burners), lab environments (e.g. sterile chambers), & the safety apparatus to support such things. And the equipment gets more complicated, expensive, specialized & dangerous the higher up you go educationally.

So the key, for me, is that word 'traditionally'. Just how important or necessary are those traditional lab experiments to the learning of science? Just how important is it to know exactly how to turn the dials of a microscope, handle the glassware when conducting a titration, or get the flame height 'just so' when heating something over a bunsen burner? Are these experiences really science, or are they technical skills that have traditionally been developed to support the learning of science? If you are not going into medicine, do you really have to know how to dissect? If you're not going to be a chemist, do you really have to know how to do a titration?

It's the very questions you present that makes us ask the question: how (or why) do we re-think the teaching of science?

gina
In reply to Gina Bennett

Re: Rethinking teaching science online -

by Deleted user -
Hi Gina,

I think there is a real danger in separating 'technical skills' from the learning of science. Science is also a process, and technical skills are essential to this process.

Our understanding of anatomy and physiology comes from a tradition of hands on dissection. Likewise, many discoveries in chemistry might have been missed by people with sloppy lab skills. Learning technical skills helps students appreciate the history of each field. Agreed that not every biology or chemistry student will go on to a career that requires these specific technical skills. However, learning technical skills is a matter of developing discipline and attention to detail. These habits are certainly transferable and would benefit most students.

Erin
In reply to Gina Bennett

Re: Week three: moving it forward

by Emma Duke-Williams -
Simulations have already been mentioned several times in this thread. I've been starting to use Second Life with computing students to get them to interact with each other.

However, to get more to the "Science" theme, rather than technology, there are some very good science simulations. One of the best I've seen recently is the Tour of the testis, which takes you right through the whole process of sperm creation etc. http://slurl.com/secondlife/OSU%20Medicine/130/113/45

There are a *lot* of other science based ones, such as molecules, DNA, medical simulations, heart simulations etc., etc., etc.